“Badi Ma’am le jaati thi. Kabhi safed, lal, kaali gaadi aati thi… Char baje jaati thi… subah aati thi… Didi subah kuch nahi kehti thi… uski aankh sooj aati thi (Senior Ma’am used to take them. Sometime a white car, a red or a black car would come. They would leave at 4 pm and return in the morning. Didi wouldn’t speak in the morning, her eyes would be swollen).”
This is what a 10-year-old girl told police when she showed up at a mahila police station Sunday night, saying she had fled from a shelter for girls. Her account that suggested sexual abuse of girls at the shelter, similar to the Muzaffarpur case in neighbouring Bihar, made police sit up. A raid was conducted at the shelter and 24 girls were rescued. A search is on for 18 others believed to have been inmates there.
Deoria Superintendent of Police Rohan P Kanay told reporters: “Twenty-four girls were rescued yesterday from the shelter… which has 42 inmates. Eighteen inmates are still missing. We have sealed it.”
Mohan Tripathi and his wife Girija Tripathi, who ran the shelter, have been arrested.
In Lucknow, UP Minister for Women and Child Welfare Rita Bahuguna Joshi told reporters that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had taken serious note of the matter and ordered the immediate transfer of the Deoria District Magistrate. On the directions of the Chief Minister, Joshi said, a high-level probe team had been sent to Deoria for an on-the-spot inquiry.
According to Joshi, the recognition of the NGO running the shelter was revoked a year ago and funds were stopped. “We will probe how it was functioning till now, and see who is responsible for this,” she said.
The Indian Express has learnt that in June 2017, the state government had ordered suspension of the licence of the NGO when anomalies were found in its functioning during investigation of another case involving a creche. The CBI was called in after allegations of misappropriation of funds worth crores meant for a creche to cater to women labour hands.
On July 28 this year, the Women Welfare Department of Uttar Pradesh ordered the District Magistrate to shift the residents of the shelter home as it had been running illegally. But on July 31, when a team led by the District Probation Officer went there, they could not enter the home. The officials alleged “misbehaviour” by the management.
That same day, an FIR was lodged by District Probation Officer Prabhat Kumar at the City Kotwali against the management including Girija Tripathi and her daughter Kanchanlata Tripathi under IPC section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty).
No further action was taken and they continued to function until the 10-year-old girl managed to escape and alert the police about the goings on.
After the Muzaffarpur case disclosures, the Chief Minister had ordered District Magistrates to inspect women shelter homes in their respective districts and ensure the safety of all inmates.
City Kotwali police station Inspector Vijay Singh Gaur said that following the raid and rescue Sunday, a fresh FIR was lodged Monday against owner Girija Tripathi, her daughter Kanchanlata Tripathi and others. Sections of the IPC and the POCSO Act have been invoked in the FIR by District Probation Officer Prabhat Kumar
In Lucknow, Rita Bahuguna Joshi said orders to close the shelter were not followed and that was the reason why the District Magistrate had been shifted.
“He was District Magistrate for past one year and so many letters were written to him to take action, including by Principal Secretary, as this centre was running illegally. But he did not react. That is why he has been removed. Former District Probation Officer, Abhishek Pandey, has also been suspended. A departmental inquiry has also been ordered against two more officers,” Joshi said.